Maine Weighs Cell Phone Cancer Warning Part 1

Maine Weighs Cell Phone Cancer Warning Part 1

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(AP) A Maine legislator wants to make the state the first to require cell phones to carry warnings that they can cause brain cancer, although there is no consensus among scientists that they do and industry leaders dispute the claim.

The now-ubiquitous devices carry such warnings in some countries, though no U.S. states require them, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. A similar effort is afoot in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom wants his city to be the nation’s first to require the warnings.

Maine Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, said numerous studies point to the cancer risk, and she has persuaded legislative leaders to allow her proposal to come up for discussion during the 2010 session that begins in January, a session usually reserved for emergency and governors’ bills.

Boland herself uses a cell phone, but with a speaker to keep the phone away from her head. She also leaves the phone off unless she’s expecting a call. At issue is radiation emitted by all cell phones.

Under Boland’s bill, manufacturers would have to put labels on phones and packaging warning of the potential for brain cancer associated with electromagnetic radiation. The warnings would recommend that users, especially children and pregnant women, keep the devices away from their head and body.

The Federal Communications Commission, which maintains that all cell phones sold in the U.S. are safe, has set a standard for the “specific absorption rate” of radiofrequency energy, but it doesn’t require handset makers to divulge radiation levels.

The San Francisco proposal would require the display of the absorption rate level next to each phone in print at least as big as the price. Boland’s bill is not specific about absorption rate levels, but would require a permanent, nonremovable advisory of risk in black type, except for the word “warning,” which would be large and in red letters. It would also include a color graphic of a child’s brain next to the warning.

While there’s little agreement about the health hazards, Boland said Maine’s roughly 950,000 cell phone users among its 1.3 million residents “do not know what the risks are.”

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Yellow signs are scattered throughout the streets surrounding the Trinitarian Congregational Church in North Andover, pleading for the parish to reconsider its plan to allow installation of cellular antennas in its steeple.

For many residents in the neighborhood near the church at 72 Elm St., cell towers are the last thing they want to worry about.
“There is too much contradicting information about how harmful this can be,” said Lauretta Wentworth, who lives on Pleasant Street, less than 100 yards from the church. “You have experts who say that it’s harmless to put cell towers in. And you have just as many experts who say that it is harmful. Though the jury is still out on this, we are the ones who will be exposed to it 24-seven.”

The church and MetroPCS Communications Inc. are applying for a special permit from the town to put six cellular antennas inside the church’s steeple. Another wireless company, T-Mobile, has also shown interest in installing antennas at the church. Residents voiced concerns at a hearing before the town’s Planning Board on Jan. 27. At the board’s next meeting on Feb. 24, a review of the application will begin.

“I don’t know if a decision will be made at the next meeting,” Judith M. Tymon, town planner, said in a recent interview. “There will be more information looked at from their application, more review will take place, and we will consider what the public said from the last meeting.”
Whatever the decision, Tymon said an appeal to the board may be made within 20 days. If the special permit is granted, the church must then apply for a building permit before the antennas could be installed.
Asked why it would allow the installation in the face of neighbors’ opposition, a church official said the antennas would benefit the community.

“The church’s membership is open to the addition of a stealth cell tower primarily because both MetroPCS and T-Mobile contacted us and indicated that our Elm Street location would fill a gap in wireless service,” David Deems, moderator for the church, said in an e-mail. “Given how many individuals and businesses including emergency services today use cellphones, smart phones, and mobile devices, we believed that considering a cell tower option in our steeple would benefit our community.”

But some residents say they worry about the potential for health risks from radio waves from the antennas. Another major concern, they say, is the impact the cellular equipment will have on property values.
Deems said an independent radio-frequency engineer was hired by the town to look into the safety issue, who found that any emissions from the installation would be well below Federal Communications Commission guidelines. He also said the engineer’s report concluded that the emissions would also be well below the emissions that exist in the neighborhood from other installed and operational sources.

Still, many remain opposed to the antennas; a large number of residents turned out for the Jan. 27 hearing to voice concerns, according to Wentworth, who says she has submitted a petition to the Planning Board signed by 193 people against the construction.
“It would be really unfair to do this,” she said of the installation. “According to the town’s own bylaws, there can be no cellular towers constructed within 600 feet of homes and schools.”

Wentworth is referring to a town bylaw stating that no cellular structure may be constructed within 600 feet of homes and schools – an ordinance against free-standing cellular towers, out of fear that the towers could fall. However, the bylaw also says that the 600-foot rule does not apply when a tower is constructed on an existing structure.
The church, meanwhile, says it has taken abuse as a result of its plans. Deems said some neighbors have obtained the church’s private mailing list of members and sent anonymous, harassing letters to members of its congregation.

“Through our ongoing discussions with other residents in the neighborhood, we’ve learned that these tactics are very familiar to the residents, and the majority tries their best to avoid association with the methods employed by the small outspoken group,” Deems said.
He said the church’s consideration to allow the antennas has been an exhaustive process that has taken much planning.

“We have taken very collaborative steps in considering this cell tower proposal. We’ve held open forums, discussions, and meetings, and our pastor has spoken with many neighbors in person,” said Deems. “No decision has yet been made, but when we do make a decision, it will be a decision made after a significant amount of research, time, effort, thought, and prayer.”

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